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Panthers ready to begin AUS men's hockey regular season

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The UPEI Panthers are going from tying the second-ranked NCAA team on Sunday to facing the top-ranked U Sports team tonight.

“What better measuring stick?” UPEI head coach Forbes MacPherson said. “What better way to gauge where you are?”

The Panthers tied the Boston University Terriers 5-5 Sunday south of the border. The Terriers have a roster than includes NHL first-round picks like Shane Bowers, Dante Fabbro and Jake Oettinger, as well as Brady Tkachuk, a top prospect for this year’s draft.

“We all knew that our team was capable of playing at that level,” third-year Panther Beni Berisha said. “Even last year, we saw spurts of it.”

Tonight, the Panthers host the two-time defending national champion UNB Varsity Reds in Atlantic University Sport action at 7 p.m. at MacLauchlan Arena.

The Panthers are a bit beat-up right now and roster decisions were not finalized Thursday.

MacPherson said there was an illness going through the team, and while the injuries were not major, some guys may be held out of tonight’s game in order to prevent the injury from becoming a larger issue for the rest of the season.

UPEI will need some things to go their way in order to have a strong season and contend for a championship. They include avoiding long-term injuries, being disciplined, difficult to play against, hard working and receiving good goaltending.

“We’re going to have to be a committed group because our defence is very inexperienced,” he said.

The Panthers lost four defencemen (Casey Babineau, Nelson Armstrong, Brock Beukeboom and Derek Ryckman), forwards J.C. Campagna, Kurt Etchegary and Craig MacLauchlan and goalie Michael Giugovaz from last year’s squad.

This year’s recruiting class includes blue-liners Alex McQuaid, Olivier Arseneau, Jackson Atkinson and Tanner McCabe, forwards Nathan Yetman, Filip Rydstrom and Kameron Kielly as well as goalies Matthew Mancina and Daryl MacCallum.

“We’re expecting big things from Mancina,” MacPherson said of the Mississauga Steelheads grad. “He was a highly coveted throughout U Sports and we’re very fortunate he chose UPEI. . .  

“The cool part of most of our recruiting class is Island hockey fans will be familiar with most of them,” MacPherson added. “All of these guys have played extensive hockey on P.E.I.”

The Panthers do have a stable of veterans to lean on, including captain Brent Andrews, Darcy Ashley and Marcus Power.

“They seem to be very motivated to take the program to the next level this year,” MacPherson said. “We’re going to be leaning on them at all kinds of key moments.”

And defenceman Ryan MacKinnon is a linchpin on the back end.

“We’ve been beyond impressed with some of the guys for the first five weeks,” MacPherson said. “You look at a guy like Ryan MacKinnon. He is just playing out of his skin right now.”

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